26 Sept 2017

Calidris canutus - Knot ringing at Altcar

An invitation to help canon netting Knot as part of  long term colour flagging / marking project came my way recently and  I couldn't resist. The project was instigated with the following aims in mind:

The aim of catching at Formby Point is to colour mark a sample of Knot as part of a long running study in Norway and Iceland trying to show the differences in migration routes to Greenland and Canada of the Icelandica knot.  Typically in spring and autumn very few Knot on the West coast are being seen with colour marks.  This increases over winter and drops again in spring.  Colour marking birds in Autumn, along with recording moult, should provide an insight into whether these birds generally migrate via Iceland rather than the more traditionally studied route via Norway.

A lot of behind the scenes work went on to get permission off the MOD to access the site via Altcar training camp and a large team of people from SCAN, South West Lancs Ringing Group & Hilbre Bird Observatory duly turned up at the gatehouse with the required identification.

Nets were set on the beach where Knot had been congregating over previous high tides and the waiting game began....... so did the rain. Lying quietly, virtually motionless and out of site in the dunes in a rain storm waiting for the feathered canutes to decide they couldn't force the tide to turn wasn't exactly pleasant.

The view from base camp - it looks a bit grim!

As part of the base camp team we couldn't see anything and daren't show ourselves incase  we disturbed the birds but as the high tide came closer we could hear the sounds of Knot, Dunlin, Sanderling and Grey Plover all around us. 

Finally the order to fire came and we ran down to the net to make sure it was clear of the water and start extracting the birds. Only then did we realise how big a catch we'd made. 

Once the birds were safely extracted and put into holding cages to keep them safe, dry and warm we set about building a temporary ringing station with gazebos, tarpaulins and tents to try and provide some shelter from the intermittent rain showers.

Pop up ringing station.

What a catch! 
Final totals were: 1155 Knot (only 8 juveniles though) including 44 controls.

One of the few juvenile Knot showing typical scaly plumage. Sanderling and Knot breed in the same areas and have obviously had a very poor breeding season.

                               374 Sanderling (only 12 juveniles) including 46 controls of which 3 were from   
                                 75 Dunlin (46 juveniles) including 2 controls including 1 from Norway
                                   4 Grey Plover - all adults.
A grand total of 1,610 birds - the biggest catch by a long margin that I've ever been involved with. 

I even got a new species to add to my list of birds ringed when I was fortunate enough to be able to ring one of the Grey Plover. What stunning birds. 

 However, this is what the day was all about. Colour ringed Knot.

Please keep an eye out for these birds - we've already had one sighted on the Wirral, 10 km from the ringing site, the next day! 

After a gruelling but satisfying day I got home around 19.00 had a curry, a few beers and a shower (well, actually, it was beer, curry, beer, shower, beer) and set the alarm to do it all again with the SCAN team the following morning. This time it was N Wales and the target species was Oystercatcher! Another good catch was made but this time the weather was warm and dry. 

21 Sept 2017

A few recent garden birds.

The new patch / garden list is now up to 95 species with the addition of a flyover Green Sandpiper that presumably was disturbed from one of the several local ponds.We've also recently had the first winter Pinkfeet over and there has been a small but continuous movement of Meadow Pipits.

Here's a few shots I've taken from the bedroom window recently!

 Juvenile Great Spotted Woodpecker
 Male House Sparrow

Juvenile Robin
Female / juv Blackcap

18 Sept 2017

Bonxie - Hilbre

Another Hilbre visit  at the weekend with Al & Steve. Waiting for my lift in the dark at West Kirby the sound of waders calling filled the air. Dunlin, Redshank & Oystercatchers were all on the move. Arriving at the Obs as the sun was just beginning to rise we were greeted by the call of a Goldcrest and a Robin 'ticking' nearby. A quick round of the traps was rewarded with a solitary Goldcrest that was duly ringed and released. Whilst Al was making a brew he called me to look through the kitchen window at 2 Chiffchaff that were flitting around the bushes. At least 3 Wheatears were also on. One of the Chiffchaffs found its way into a heligoland trap thus doubling the total number of birds ringed for the day.

Three different Rock Pipits were seen and two more dropped out of the sky calling and landed on the west side cliffs and there was a small passage of swallow.

All the waders and gulls on Middle Eye were behaving a bit strangely and kept flying up and circling around. A couple of Peregrines were around and this seemed to be the cause of the disturbance. However, they all seemed to abandon Middle Eye which seemed very unusual. All was revealed when a Bonxie was spotted by Al flying off the beach at the south end of Hilbre and over the Obs before flying off north.

What a bruiser!

With the tide ebbing far enough to drive off we left the island only to be momentarily distracted by a Rock Pipit perched up on the cliff alongside the vehicle ramp. Using Al's car as a hide I managed  couple of decent shots through the open window.

Another great morning.

15 Sept 2017

Hilbre and a close encounter with a grebe!

For the first time for several years the weather gods colluded to give us prolonged north westerlies - Leach's weather! With my Landrover still off the road Steve kindly lent me his for a quick afternoon trip to Hilbre accompanied by Col & Kenny.

The tide was already flooding three hours before high tide when we set off from West Kirby. A stranded Great -crested Grebe was spotted on the rocks adjacent to the Landrover track by Middle Eye and Kenny leapt out of the vehicle and caught it. Grebes can't take off on or walk well on land as their legs are so far back. A quick examination showed it didn't appear to be injured and was probably exhausted - in fact Kenny sustained more injuries than the grebe had in trying to rescue it!

Arriving at the Obs we put it into a large bag to keep and warm and calm with the intention of releasing at at high tide.

Leachs Petrels were spotted from the Obs balcony almost on arrival and after a quick brew we headed down towards the sea-watching hide with the grebe in its bag for release.

It dived under water immediately it was released and we last saw it swimming back out to sea.

A good seawatch ensued with 16 Leach's Petrels being tallied along with 3 Arctic Skuas, Manx Shearwater and a pristine summer plumaged Black-throated Diver. We also had 6 Black Terns including 5 in one flock and numerous Sandwich terns but only two Kittiwakes.